REPUBLIC Act No.10533 or the Enhanced Basic Education Act (EBEA) was signed into law by President Benigno Aquino III in 2013. One of its guiding principles is making Filipino graduates “globally competitive” in order to serve the needs of a “globalized environment.” It also paved the way for lengthening the basic education program to a total of 12 years from the current 10-year program. Students will now graduate at around the age of 18 after passing through a year of compulsory kindergarten, six years of elementary education and another six years of secondary education.
Contained in the EBEA are several curricular changes such as the spiral progression approach, putting up career tracks as part of the senior high school system and the Mother Tongue Based – Multilingual Education (MTB-MLE) approach. One can venture into senior high school system career tracks into the Academic track which includes the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) strand and the Technical-Vocational Track.
The idea behind the spiral progression approach is that it would impart knowledge in a less compact and more temporally distributed way. Complex concepts in the latter years would depend on the basic knowledge taught in the early years of education. Under the K-12 program, Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Earth Sciences will be taught with increasing complexity as one moves up in the elementary and junior high school. The topics that will be discussed will change every quarter.
A student will choose a career track in senior high school (starting grade 11) which will determine the subjects a student will have to take for the last two years of his high school education. The choices are the Academic, Technical-Vocational-Livelihood, and Sports and Arts tracks. Within the Academic Track there are three further strands: Business, Accountancy and Management (BAM); Humanities, Education, Social Science (HESS); and Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM). There will also be a common core curriculum that will have to be taken by all senior high students.
The nationwide average of current year high school students in the National Achievement Test across six subject areas is below 50%. While the K-12 targets to improve this, the present capacity of schools to carry out the supposed inquiry-based approach could render any reform ineffective.
Teaching science in the more than 12,000 secondary schools in the Philippines has been a challenge especially with regard to the lack of scientific equipment in instruction. Data released by the DepEd in 2012 showed that out of 45,977 public elementary and secondary schools only 5,821 or 13% have a science laboratory despite multiple initiatives to address the need.
In a survey that we have done from September 2013 to June 2014 participated in by a total of 173 science teachers from selected public and private secondary and tertiary schools from Northern Luzon, Central Luzon, Metro Manila, Southern Tagalog, Central Visayas, Northern Mindanao and Southern Mindanao shows that 23% of teachers do not have access to a laboratory and only 37% have access to a dedicated laboratory fit to what he/she is teaching.
Furthermore, access to modern instrumentation is limited to 33% of the respondents. For public high schools, 36% of the respondents do not have access to a laboratory, only 13% have access to modern instrumentation but only 4% of the respondents use it for learning activities.
The numbers are worse for public elementary schools where only 4.8% have their own science lab. Regional variations also reflect the uneven development between city and province. In NCR, roughly 42% of elementary schools have a science lab compared to a measly 2.3% for ARMM. Secondary schools fare better, with around 50% of secondary public schools nationwide having their own science lab.
One of the more basic objectives of ensuring scientific literacy (and thus the need for a solid science education for all) in a country is to produce citizens that are capable of adapting to a variety of situations and solving problems through scientific thinking. Our basic education program should instill a culture of scientific inquiry and an objective understanding of the world around us.
The problems of science and math education in the country are not detached from the overall problem of basic education and the Philippine society as a whole. Unless these fundamental problems, including the lack of teachers and facilities, commercialization and state neglect are addressed, science and math competencies of the Filipino children would keep on lagging behind our neighbors. This should also be tied to the needs of a domestic industrial economy.
Sadly, the lack of national industries only perpetuate the thinking that education is solely for the needs of the “global” players. Putting up domestic industries catering to local needs would create a demand for scientists, technologists and engineers that would stay in the country. Advanced industries generally require scientists and technologists with greater skills and expertise. Such a demand would spur further improvements in our science education programs and give us a better education program than what is being foisted upon us now.